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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Few -Beauty at Low Temperatures (s/r 2019) ****½

The Few, a trio from Chicago, released Beauty at Low Temperatures last Autumn. The CD was swept atop my piles of music over the winter, where it stared it at me expectantly for months. Then, a rather random post on Facebook following the meme of "post the cover of an album each day that has influenced you ... " had me searching my other other piles of music for the Spontaneous Music Ensemble's Karyobin. This elusive gem from 1968 (my version is the beautifully remastered one from 2017 from Emanem) featured the mouth-watering collective of John Stevens, Evan Parker, Kenny Wheeler, Derek Bailey, and Dave Holland, fully engaged in a new, holistic approach to improvisation. It was a little later this same day, coincidentally, that I put on the album from The Few that had been patiently waiting on my desk. 

The Few is Macie Stewart, whose violin and voice often blend into a sound of its own; Charlie Kirchen, who is patient and expressive on the bass; and Steve Marquette whose approach to the guitar has absorbed the deconstruction of the aforementioned Bailey as well as American folk (among other influences). The group, which can be strikingly delicate, can also be delicately striking, mixing gossamer haze with confident pulsations. They have no problem generating a big sound, even as they embrace the acoustics of the their instruments to create music that celebrates the sounds of strings and wood, weaving the threads of improvised music together into their own wholly new approach.

The first track of Beauty at Low Temperatures is called "Hideout" and was recorded at the Hideout in Chicago in November 2018, while the other track, "May Chapel," was recorded just about a year earlier in December 2017 at Chicago's May Chapel. Between these two tracks, there are not so much 'stand out' moments as there is an aggregation of many smaller, absorbing ones, ideas that emanate from the musicians, manifest on one instrument and carry over to another. "Hideout" is dark, sometimes even a bit spooky. What begins with a strike of harmonics on the guitar and taught, edgy overtones from the strings (I assume the violin), evolves into an delicate dance as the three musicians play off of each other, building something together. The track's tempo picks up at times, especially when Kirchen's thrumming bass notes seem to be sloughing off the violin glissando. In "May Chapel" there is long evolving passage that taps into the collective Americana subconscious, which after long run, like a premonition of the current American unraveling, does the same.  

Finally, here is where my earlier thoughts come in: it feels like these three young musicians are quietly and confidently defining their own music, which a bit like SME, subsumes the individual and rewards deeply felt interactions. There are no solos, though there are passages where Stewart's violin and voice, or Kirchen's bass, present themselves solo; however, even when this happens, it serves to continue the collective's idea. Maybe I just primed myself by listening to the other album prior, but I'd like to think that even though the instrumentation is completely different, the players are from continents separated by an ocean, and the recordings were made over 50 years apart, that it is rather something about the deep connections and purposeful sounds that helped me draw a connection. Beauty at Low Temperatures is ephemeral, but solidly rooted, like the music that still intrigues from Karyobin. Drawing from a deep well of creativity and musical trust, the The Few has developed a timeless sound that they capture on this fantastic recording. 


Dom Minasi said...

Thanks for the review of this CD. Wonderful to hear this, especially with the father of avant-garde guitar Derek Bailey

Captain Hate said...

Love the tie-in with Karyobin; listening can be such a subjective experience based upon so many things producing the mindset at the time. I wanted to point out that Stewart and Marquette are in Marker that Ken Vandermark assembled.